Author Archives: Melissa Shaw-Smith

About Melissa Shaw-Smith

I hope I will always be as endlessly curious about the natural worlds as the 7 year-old me in that goofy picture. Writing is a solitary business, this blog is my way of making it count.

Celts!

My darling daughter turned 21, and I got the great pleasure of treating her to a week in London. Of the many highlights, here are a few.

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Taking photos of graffiti near Waterloo bridge. Getting a kick out of reading the names on the subway map & recognizing so many of them from pop culture
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Cramming in as many amazing exhibitions as our eyeballs and feet would allow.


Being Irish I thought I had a clue about the Celts, but this exhibition was an eye opener in more ways than one.

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Worn out!

Only through a bloody miracle and some marginally immoral behavior did we catch  our flight for a quick visit back to the West of Ireland. She was looking mysteriously celtic!

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Clew Bay, Co. Mayo

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Lough Carra Floods

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A small gem of sunshine

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Mother and daugher

RECLAIM

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. . . and then I returned
to the comforting leak of the pantry light

across the kitchen floor
reclaiming the hearth

the carved out space
to creep beneath, inhabit

the familiar echo off the walls
a hum, deep inside me

a coming to earth
solid weight

nestling into the embrace
of the small green chair

sinking back into the habitual
flow, feeling it wash over me

through winter chilled glass
reimagining myself with

familiar landscape
owl moon, blue shadows on snow

car headlights tossing snowflakes
shattering my silence from below.

How much light in a winter sky

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How much light in a winter sky!
the subtlety of mauve and rust and slate

heavy-bellied clouds floating
like seasoned bathers in a cold sea

each dwindling moment of olive oil light
caught in the wick of a seed of grass

chest-breaching call of the gulls
the lake surface a battered pewter plate

bouncing back the cupped light
medieval in its splendor
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Small Gift

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One small gift from the universe
an unintended consequence
benefiting the giver, taker
one momentary thread of spider
web light suspending
judgment, exhaling
in one single tonal breath
body heat, one giant synchronized
joining of hands, shared
pulse resonating, thrumming
the fat base string
under your thump, thumping
heart beat one.
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DAY’S END

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Sudden rush of feathers
draughting the air above me
small flocks of careening birds
fly low over the meadow
chased by strong tail winds
a dozen at a time joining
the twisting, turning mass
flowing across the evening sky
out over the lake, back over the trees
a pulsing organism, feinting left and right
like black drops of ink swirled in water
and then, on signal, they descend
in chattering swarms into the reed beds
their shrill conversations fill the air—
a murmuration of starlings at day’s end.

THE HEALING PLACE

DSCF8634This summer I decided to create a specific place in my garden where I could go and put aside the constant rush to project myself into the future. It would be a touchstone to remind me to stop, breathe, live in that specific moment, and the next, and the next.

It began life as an herb garden more than a decade ago in my first vigorous flush of gardening when we moved out of the city. I had dreamed of pebble paths and demarcations of boxwood and stone. Each quadrant was to be like a painting of a medieval apothecary garden, simple but potent and filled with thyme and sage and mint).

For a few years I diligently tended the paths and herb beds. But the woods were always trying to reclaim their birthright, and the giant black walnut in the middle of the yard spread its shade and toxic roots far and wide. Four beds became three, then two as the wild bergamot and dame’s rocket overran the oregano and parsley.

Still the bones of the herb garden remained, anchored by a granite sculpture at its center—the result of a rash bid at a silent auction. I often found myself gravitating to this spot, ambulating in figure eights around the boxwoods, letting the stresses of the day leave my body. Or sitting on the sun-warmed limestone pavers, listening to the orchestra of birds and insects. Eyes closed, breathing in the scent of phlox reminded me to revel in the moment and let myself sink into the fabric of the natural world around me.

So this fall I took clippers and a shovel to the unruly tangle of weeds, planted a few more boxwoods to mark the boundaries from the encroaching woodland, and repurposed some broken pavers. The soft days of autumn sunshine and rain coaxed a haze of green from the newly sown grass seed.

Now, even on the coldest days, when the sun barely skims the treetops, I bask in a spot of afternoon sunshine, drawing strength and peace from my grounding place.
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Croagh Patrick

DSCF8535After four days of gales and pelting rain in the west of Ireland, the sun decided to show itself a few moments before sunset. The mountain in the distance is Croagh Patrick, or the Reek as it’s known locally. It’s been a place of pilgrimage from long before the followers of St. Patrick started trekking up its scree slopes in bare feet. Over the years I’ve taken many photos of it from all angles. Here are a few.
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WHAT THE RAVEN SAW

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The raven came by in the late afternoon
three caws for hello, I see you down there
fingering the damp wash on the line
weak sun on your back, wondering
if it’s strong enough for drying, halfheartedly
sweeping wet leaves, pulling
shocking green weeds out of the gutter
stroking the tabby, scenting the apple decay.

You, walking around and around
your garden, cutting tangled armfuls
of herbs to suspend in the sunny spot
over the kitchen table, pulling
rattling skeleton pods of beans out of the rain
softened earth, mounding horse manure
over the rhubarb, turning the compost
disturbing the worms.

You, standing in a tree-framed window
of sunshine, ear half listening to the whispering
of oak leaves laughing dryly at their shriveled jokes
breathing the must of leaf mold
seeking the spot by the back door, somewhere
behind the three waiting pumpkins
where the cricket has chosen to sing
and wondering why?

You, hefting clods of earth into a bucket, paying homage
to the wooly bear, curled in a patch of near-sun
the ladybug carcass—yellow and black
walnuts thudding on the roof and the ungodly
splashes of brilliance across the landscape

You, lullabying your garden to sleep.

UNDONE

IMG_2557She was undone by small things
a lost button, a missed call, stale bread.
Her ribs could only expand to take in so much air
Guilt was a wolf’s shadow haunting
the end of her bed at night.
To darn a frayed patch gave her some satisfaction—
a wound remade with stout thread.
For brief moments she could make the world
stand still, cup water in her hands and watch
the pink light slipping through her fingers.
The veil was pulled back
skin against skin, moments so intense
tears burst from her eyes making her
laugh with joy and surprise.